What’s An Email Client

Sooner or later, anyone using email is going to run across the term “email client”. The context of this encounter is usually a tech support conversation in which the support rep asks “Which email client are you using?” If you don’t know how to answer this question don’t worry, you’re not alone.

An email client is any software program that you use to manage your email. In many ways it is like a desk where you would process paper mail. In fact, some of the terms used to describe parts of this software, such as “Inbox”, are derived from this analogy.

At a minimum an email client should have the following functionality:

  • The ability to connect to one or more mail servers to send and retrieve messages.
  • Interfaces to display and manage sent and received messages.
  • An interface to compose and format new messages.

In addition most email clients will include:

  • Some form of address book/contact management interface.
  • The ability to create and manage folders for email categorization.
  • Interfaces to manage preferences for the other interfaces.

There are many different email clients available, some for the desktop (i.e. installed on your computer) and some web-based (i.e. accessed over the Internet). Among the major desktop clients are Microsoft Outlook and Outlook Express, Apple Mail, Mozilla Thunderbird and Eudora (to name just a few).

Web-based clients are provided by major email services like gMail, Yahoo! and Hotmail, most Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and also by email service providers like OnlyMyEmail.

Desktop vs. Web-based Email Clients

Desktop and web-based email clients generally offer most of the same functionality but there are distinct advantages and disadvantages to both, and, depending on the circumstances, it may make sense to use both types of client with the same email account .

Desktop Clients:

  • Must be installed. (Although most computers will come with at least one email client pre-installed.)
  • Should be installed on a computer to which you have easy access.
  • Require you to know certain details about the servers they will use to send and receive email for each email account they will be used for. (This information is entered and saved when a new email account is added to the client and once it is saved you will not have to supply it again.)
  • Can be used to manage multiple email accounts.
  • Store downloaded email on your hard drive.

Web-based Clients:

  • Are accessible from any computer with an Internet connection and a browser as long as you know the username and password for the address and the web address of the client software (e.g. webmail.onlymyemail.com).
  • Can usually only be used to manage one email account.
  • Leave email on the hosting server.

Certain aspects of both types of clients can be regarded as either an advantage or a disadvantage depending on how you use the account.

Accessing Web-mail from any computer with Internet access and a browser can be very helpful especially to people who travel a lot. But, if proper care is not exercised in using the account on public computers, can be a security risk.

The ability to manage multiple accounts using software, and without having to log in and out of different client sites can be very useful. On the other hand, managing multiple account requires you to understand more about how the email client works in order to be able to configure and use several accounts simultaneously.

Leaving mail on the hosting server allows you to access your email “archive” from anywhere. However, depending on how much mail you receive and how long you store it, you can exceed the server’s allowed storage quota and find your account unavailable.

Related Posts

How Email Works, What Every User Should Know

More Info

Wikipedia Email Client Article
Wikipedia Client Comparison

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One Response to “What’s An Email Client”

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